They Are Billions and, sooner or later, you’ll be joining them.
This zombie-themed real-time-strategy game does its level best to grind you down, to the point where victory becomes something that happens to other people. If your hapless colonists aren’t slaughtered by the undead hordes that fling themselves against your walls then they’ll perish because you paid little heed to the lone shambler wending his way towards the rear of your steampunk stronghold.
Two minutes later, The Little Zombie Who Could has clawed his way into a building and infected the inhabitants who, in turn, add others to their fast growing band of rotters. In a fit of desperation you gather together as many defenders as you can spare and send them to intercept the dead behind your walls. But, in your heart, you know it’s too little too late and your colony falls to the walking dead. Again.
Challenging as They Are Billions is on all bar the game’s lowest difficulty level, it’s an undeniably engaging RTS experience. It’s currently in Early Access so only sports a survival mode, which pitches you against ever growing waves of the undead. The game does throw in the odd super-zombie but, by and large, you’re facing regular run-of-the-mill zombies; it’s their sheer numbers that make them such a formidable foe.
Dispensing with many of the usual tower-defence tropes, They Are Billions gives you more than mere minutes to construct your colony, easily enough to amass a reasonable stockpile of resources. The real difficulty is in how you choose to deploy those resources. Do you build a barracks and start training soldiers, knowing that your base is unprotected from the both the hordes and the individual zombies that roam the map? Or is it wiser to construct sawmills and create a barrier to keep the dead out, knowing that you don’t yet have enough soldiers to man the walls? The further you get into the game, the more options and units become available and, consequently, the more critical your base building choices become.
Coupled with the fact that you don’t know exactly when the next horde will arrive, your colonists will live or die by your decisions (though having zombies destroy your colony HQ is enough to end the game). The lulls between each assault only add to the tension, each horde’s arrival being something of a relief. Once the viscera hits the fan, you can pause the game and micro-manage your individual troops but in truth this is rarely enough to sway a battle; if you’re taking on a near screen-filling army of the dead with five archers, your oh-so-trusting citizenry are going to be zombie fodder no matter how vigorously you click.
They Are Billions’ steampunk aesthetic didn’t quite land for me, but if you’re fond of gluing gears on things you’ll be right at home. Even in its unfinished state, They Are Billions is a tense time-sink, an addictive blend of base-building and tower-defence that will have you coming back again and again. Each defeat is a learning experience and each time you play you push back against the armies of the dead a little more. Whether you’re a zombie aficionado or not, They Are Billions will sink its teeth into you and refuse to let go.